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"The Martian" is the Ultimate PBL Adventure

"You do the math. You solve a problem. Then you solve the next. If you solve enough of them you can come home." - Matt Damon in "The Martian"

Astronaut, Mark Watney's crew mistakenly leaves him for dead on Mars. His survival is put to the ultimate test in a series of challenges to overcome with math, science, creativity, and perseverance. My first viewing of The Martian was based purely on the film's science fiction entertainment value. However, after reading Amanda Dykes's inspiring post, "Are You Teaching Your Students to be Martians?", I decided to see this captivating movie again, this time, through my educator's lens.



"In the face of overwhelming odds, I have only one option: I am going to have to science the shit out of this."  - Matt Damon in "The Martian"


Watney, a botanist, needs to create a food supply. He needs to use available technology to create a means of communication, and he needs to engineer transportation in order to have any hope of getting rescued. He needs to survive alone for as long as four years in the most inhospitable of environments. As many of us look to transform our classrooms and schools into more innovative learning spaces, we can take a few cues from this scientist's survival in a distant learning place. The following education themes are apparent and enjoyable in this film; problem-based learning, authentic assessment, STEM education, makerspaces, growth mindset, and valuing relationships over content.

After peeling away the entertainment aspects of this terrific movie, I wonder how much of this fictitious expedition to Mars is plausible? After reading several articles focused on this question, I was happy to learn most of Watney's problems, and solutions, are factually accurate. This science and attention to authenticity is driving me to read Andy Weir's interesting book, The Martian.

With the entertainment and science fiction removed, I am left wondering about Mark Watney's educational experiences. How did he develop such resourcefulness and resolve? What practice did he experience with problem-solving? What impact did Watney's education have on his survival? How can our current system of education be transformed to, in the words of Amanda Dykes, produce more Martians?

Related Reading




Behind the Science of The Martian - Astronomy Magazine, Eric Betz




Comments

Joy Kirr said…
I love it, Bob! THE MARTIAN is the next adult book on my "to read" list. I have it on reserve at the EGPL! ;)

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